Welcome to my annual list of the best Modern Synthpop Releases of 2017. Like last year’s list, this one combines some outstanding music by “classic” artists like OMD, Gary Numan and T.O.Y. with many new or fairly young modern acts. That’s what makes synthpop so incredibly vibrant and endlessly fascinating to follow. Here, without further ado, are my picks for the Top 10 Modern Synthpop releases of 2017!
Gary Numan – Savage (Songs From a Broken World)
This astounding album is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where small bands of people struggle for survival. Numan’s singing style is raw, emotional and incredibly moving, delivered in short bursts between the edgy synths and a variety of industrial sound effects. I got a sense of the singer as a protagonist who must fight to survive. He is weary as he makes his way through what’s left of the world, but hr still clings to shreds of hope. The arrangement of each song is sparse and striking, with Middle Eastern accents that give Savage a distinct sense of place. As you listen to these beautifully-crafted tracks, you can almost picture a lone, tattered figure stumbling across the desert sands. My favorite track is And It All Began with You, which describes an undying love that extends beyond this world into the next (“And when you stand before God/I’ll be with you.”). Savage is a spectacular artistic achievement for Numan, and a clear choice for the number one new Modern Synthpop Release of 2017!
OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
OMD’s 13th release follows in the mold of 2013’s amazing English Electric, blending some satisfying, well-crafted ballads with a handful of quirky tracks (like Robot Man) that leave you scratching your head at first, but which eventually start to grow on you. In other words, typical OMD! The subject matter is a different story, however. The Punishment of Luxury is a commentary on our contemporary world, which seems to be coming apart at the seams. Even the album’s title track is a sharp poke in the eye at the conspicuous consumption of the rich: “Lazy girl, dirty boy/Surrounded by your broken toys/And you don’t know how/To just make the pain go away.” Stand-out tracks include Isotype, Precision & Decay and La Mitrailleuse.
The Birthday Massacre – Under Your Spell
Some synth purists may scoff at the inclusion of TBM in a top 10 synthpop release list, but the fact is their music has always had a fairly strong synth/rock throughline that is even stronger on Under Your Spell. The songwriting on this enjoyable album is as strong as ever, among their best work – even though they seem to be stepping away from the spooky, rainy atmospherics that have characterized most of their recent albums. Chibi’s strong yet enigmatic vocals are in peak form, backed by crunchy guitar riffs and soaring synths. Favorite tracks include One, Under Your Spell, Counterpane and Hex. If you haven’t checked out The Birthday Massacre, I encourage you to ignore their melodramatic name and give this album a good listen. I think you’ll be quite impressed!
Daily Planet – Play Rewind Repeat
Daily Planet is an amazing story. Over 20 years ago, Johan Baeckström and Jarmo Ollila put out several beautifully crafted albums that were standouts in the independent modern synthpop scene. Baeckström’s gentle, nimble vocals are like nothing else – gorgeously nuanced, a real pleasure to listen to. Then they went into a two-decade hiatus, leaving their fans waiting for more but walking away unrequited. To everyone’s surprise, the much older and wiser Swedish duo got back together and produced the remarkable album, Two, in 2014. It was as if time stopped, and they never left us. Play Rewind Repeat is a worthy follow-up, and builds upon their signature sound while not formulaically repeating it. Grains of Sand is one of many upbeat, scintillating tracks that will delight your senses. Over Water takes a stunning minor-key turn that is also quite memorable. I look forward to much more amazing synthpop from this dynamic duo!
Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
Goldfrapp is a group that I hadn’t paid much attention to until 2017. Perhaps that’s because Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have taken an enigmatic, David Bowie-like approach to their musical career, veering from dance pop to folktronica, Italo-disco and glam pop. Silver Eye is very much in the synthpop/dance pop camp, with buzzy electronics, quirky beats and Allison’s sensual vocals blending together into a delightful aural stew. Favorites on this album, Goldfrapp’s first new release in four years, include Anymore, Systemagic, Faux Suede Drifter (a surprisingly sparse arrangement compared to Goldfrapp’s usual layered compositions) and Oceans.
Frecvens – A New Day
Frecvens is an intriguing new band that hails from Oslo, Norway. Their debut album, A New Day, is one of the stand-out surprises of 2017. Jonas Andresen and Fredrik Bjerkland have crafted a shimmering melodic and vocal style that is truly unique – and quite enjoyable. Stand-out tracks include: Merci, Sweetest Revenge, Everything Happen and Missing You. The latter has a strong Violator-era DM vibe to it – very cool! If that wasn’t enough, later in 2017, Frecvens released a 8-track EP entitled Someone To Talk To. It follows a similar musical style – still very much recognizable as uniquely Frecvens – but the compositions on this 8-track release are a bit more experimental. Clearly, this duo doesn’t want to get into a rut musically.
X Marks the Pedwalk – Secrets
Sevren Ni-Arb, the alias of André Schmechta, formed X Marks the Pedwalk in 1989, with a focus on EBM and industrial sounds. After a number of years of success, he went on a 14-year hiatus, and only recently re-activated it. New elements on Secrets, his ninth release, include a stronger focus on synthpop and a bigger singing role for his wife, Estafania. He has also released it on his own label, Meshworks. Secrets is a terrific albeit short album (only 9 songs) that bristles with energy, complex arrangements and lots of cool hooks – perfect for the dance floor. Sevren Ni-Arb is clearly a seasoned and enthusiastic songwriter, considering the high quality of tracks like Masterpiece, Ghost and Breathe. Secrets is definitely worth a listen!
Priest – New Flesh
Imagine if Black Celebration-era DM and And One had a love child, with a bit of Erasure thrown in for good measure. That unique stew will help you too start to understand Priest’s eclectic but enjoyable style on its debut long-player, New Flesh. Every song on this album is solid – well composed, with quirky touches and a surprising amount of variety in only 10 songs. There’s no filler here! Favorite tracks include: History in Black, Populist, Nightmare Hotel and Reloader.
M.I.N.E – One
I’ve always been a huge fan of Camouflage, especially their last album, Grayscale. What an absolutely brilliant set of songs! Unfortunately, Camouflage produces new albums very infrequently, so it takes a long time to get your fix between releases. Fortunately, one of the members of Camouflage felt the same way, and decided to do something about it. Marcus Mayne formed a group called M.I.N.E to continue producing music in a similar style. He released his first album under this moniker earlier this year, a four track EP called One. For fans of Camouflage, it’s the perfect tonic: a familiar voice, with four tantalizing songs that hint at more to come. Things We’ve Done is a mid-tempo number in the Camouflage model. White Trash is a quirky ballad with unique sound samples scattered about. Here’s a surprise: When I looked for this EP online, it disappeared from Spotify and iTunes. So I looked at visitor posts to the M.I.N.E Facebook page, figuring other people must be wondering what happened to their music. The answer is simple: The band is in the midst of a label change, PLUS they’ll be releasing a new full-length album in January!
T.O.Y. – Pain is Love
It seems hard to believe, but this is the first new music from T.O.Y. In 14 years. The German synthpop group last released an album, White Lights , in 2003 while signed to the A Different Drum. In addition, the release of Pain is Love was delayed several times due to personnel changes. This new album was well worth the wait. This 14-track LP shows an accomplished synthpop artist at his best. T.O.Y.’s mastery of melodic synthpop shines from every pore of Pain is Love. The variety of songs is impressive; despite its lengthy gestation period, the songs feel just right – not overly fussed over. Each song contains its own unique hooks and fun little synth elements. Hopefully, this is a return to form for this well-loved group, which is currently touring Europe and Russia.
There has been so much excellent synthpop music published in 2017 that I decided to name another 7 releases to an Honorable Mentions list. I encourage you to check out this cornucopia of wonderful electronic tunes!
- Charlotte Someone – Magnetar
- Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
- Me the Tiger – What is Beautiful Never Dies
- Elements – Neuropa
- Null+Void – Cryosleep
- The Frixion – The Frixion
- Battery Operated Orchestra – Radiation
Now it’s your turn
What modern synthpop releases (albums OR EPs; no singles, please) amazed and delighted you during 2017? Please share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!